Market Eye: Capturing 8 Million Stories

Breaking news in New York brings out the best in local TV stations

The seasoned and savvy New York news outlets were put to the test when a gas leak in the East Village resulted in the collapse of three tenement buildings March 26. Reporters rushed to the scene to capture the midafternoon tragedy, but it was the local residents who got the scoop. A few years back, the news professionals say, citizen journalists contributed photos. These days, it’s video. “Everyone is shooting video,” says Steve Paulus, senior VP of news and local programming at Time Warner Cable, parent of NY1 News. “All the best footage was shot by the public.”

News leader WABC was, fittingly, the first station on the scene. Dave Davis, president and general manager, says elite talent is key to the Eyewitness News brand’s enviable success.

“They’re experienced, they’re smart and they know New York,” he says.

WABC ran the table in the February sweeps news races, as usual. Its 5.5 household rating/10 share bettered WCBS’ 5.2/10 at 11 p.m. WCBS barely won primetime in households, while WNBC had a comfortable win in adults 25-54. BIA/Kelsey has WNBC on top by a hair in revenue, but no one contests WABC’s eminence.

Still, the competition is fierce. Besides the traditional big six, there are powerhouse Spanish-language stations, a CBS owned indie in WLNY and local cable/telco news from NY1 and FiOS 1. Well-heeled parents are investing, and stations are looking for every advantage they can come up with. Tribune’s WPIX launches a 6 p.m. news April 20 and has both Mets and Yankees games this season. The station will soon christen a studio at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “We’ll create original content around marquee events,” says Rich Graziano, VP/GM.

0402_MarketEye_Chart.jpgNY1 is softening its rigid paywall, with non-subscribers allowed a number of free clips. Univision’s WXTV is simulcasting its 11 p.m. news on fellow UniMás outlet WFUT. “It expands our reach a little bit,” says Ramón Pineda, senior VP at Univision New York, as does a merged local TV/radio operation.

WCBS is runner-up in most news races, and has a novel strategy for extending its numbers in a key category. The station has 1,000-plus Weather Watchers scattered around the city and its far-reaching suburbs, weather enthusiasts who contribute their meteorological findings. “It’s been a great way to make a very personal connection with our viewers,” says Peter Dunn, WCBS president/general manager and CBS Television Stations president.

Public transit is part of life in New York, and residents can watch WNBC, and NBC, on PATH trains and in taxicabs, while pumping gas or even getting a mani-pedi at select nail salons. NBCUniversal has used investigative reporting to show its commitment to local television; WNBC has five reporters working in the I-team. “They create good, interesting stories that can lead to changes in legislation,” says Michael Jack, president and general manager.

Jack retired in mid-April, with Eric Lerner moving up from WCAU Philadelphia to run WNBC. Cristina Schwarz, president and general manager of sister Telemundo station WNJU, has already reached out about furthering collaboration; WNBC and WNJU have shared talent on promos and breaking news and at events. “Instead of focusing on our differences, we’re looking at how we are similar,” says Schwarz.

Uptown at WNYW headquarters, the station has its own Fox 5 branded YouTube channel, general manager editorials from Lew Leone, and Good Day New York when ABC, CBS and NBC go to network shows. “We give Today and [Good Morning America] a run for their money,” says Leone, VP and general manager. “We’re scrappy— I think that’s what sets us apart.”

WNYW debuts sister WWOR’s offbeat news program Chasing in July.

Across town, WABC staffers are mourning the loss of reporter Lisa Colagrossi, who died from a brain hemorrhage last month at age 49.

Breaking news events such as the building collapse, which claimed two lives, give stations a chance to experiment with newsgathering technologies such as Meerkat and Periscope, and hone their use of cellular bonded tech to go live quickly.

With countless media outlets for an advertiser to spend their budget on, New York’s TV spot market is soft. There are no easy days in the Big Apple—for salespeople or newsgatherers. “It’s a competitive market,” says Pineda. “It’s New York.”

MEET ME IN MANHATTAN

I got to see firsthand WPIX’s two state-of-the-art studios under construction on the second floor of the Daily News Building in midtown. GM Rich Graziano notes the “flexibility” of the Studio 2A-Studio 2B setup. He says he’s taken “baby steps” in terms of a potential partnership with the New York Daily News, and may even bring back the delightfully cheesy ’80s call-in game TV Pixxx, “if there’s a way to do a contemporary version.”

Being based in New York made it possible for me to personally visit with several GMs in the nation’s top market. Several took me up on my offer. I walked in the freezing rain from the subway to WNYW’s HQ, and a few days later took in the sun and blooming flowers while cabbing through Central Park to WABC, where I saw the street-level studio and the Live With Kelly and Michael set.

Fox 5, just finished with some spring cleaning, had had a tag sale, selling off the books, T-shirts and CDs a station accumulates over the years, the proceeds going to charity. Not for sale—GM Lew Leone’s beloved XFL football.

I discussed March Madness ratings over lunch with WCBS GM Peter Dunn. I rang up around 50 bucks in cab fare on my visits, and another 10 on my MetroCard subway pass. But face-to-face beats a phone call any day.